‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’

It’s all gone off at Arsenal. Just when we thought we were going to enjoy a conflict free summer, van Persie pulls out one of the most stunning heel turns since Stone Cold Steve Austin at Wrestlemania XVII.

The follow up statement by Red and White Holdings, conveniently timed to manipulate the already fragile fanbase, wasn’t exactly welcome either. Whilst I believe that the two events are connected in more ways than one, it’s van Persie, or rather the symbolic hero, that I want to focus on here.

It only happened on Wednesday afternoon yet so much has been written that I can hardly add anything new. I too feel betrayed, patronised, angry and disappointed. I blame some of that on the agent, some of it on oil rich Football clubs pissing all over the principles of sporting competition, but equally I blame it on the man himself.

I’ve seen it written many times this week, I should divorce myself from the love of a player and love only the shirt. Of course, I agree wholeheartedly that the most important thing is love for the club. Arsenal Football Club were here 90 odd years before I was and will continue to be long after I draw my final breath. The club is bigger than any man – or brat – and that is how it should be. My Dad continued supporting Arsenal after Frank Stapleton as did I after Nasri.

Whilst it should come as no surprise when any modern day Footballer turns out to be an egotistical villain with an appetite for money that would shame a city banker, that doesn’t mean that I’m not disappointed by it. I’m afraid I’m unable to just shrug my shoulders and accept that’s the way it is. Deep down I know that’s the way it is but that doesn’t stop me wishing it wasn’t. It also doesn’t mean it has to be that way.

The vast majority of us felt that van Persie was different. He seemed grateful for his time at Arsenal, he talked of knowing what it meant to be at the club and seemed settled with friends and family in London. This, and the goals – all the wonderful goals – convinced me – perhaps tricked me –  that he was one of us. I know he’s never going to pay to watch Arsenal away at Stoke but then again nor does Tony Adams. I felt he was as close to loving the club as any player conceivably could be.

I went up to the stadium a few weeks ago with my Dad and son, for no real purpose other than to just be there. We wandered around stopping to look at the testimonials on the side of the stadium. My Dad recalled having met Jack Kelsey and I tried to tell my two-year-old son about how special Thierry Henry was (until he became frightened of the statue; creepy eyes apparently). I noted that van Persie was on the brink of greatness. He could earn more money and probably claim more medals elsewhere but a commitment to us, even the odd trophy, would mark him out as superior to others in his generation and therefore in reach of  greatness. He could be a worthy sporting hero.

I’m acutely aware that a grown man investing such emotion in a millionaire sportsman is a bit silly (it probably suggests I need some form of counselling) but, try as I might, I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong in this environment. When a player scores for your side they are living out your dream. I revel in that moment, the chance to unite with my fellow supporters and the players that represent us. The whole dynamic, for me at least, loses something when I try to remain dispassionate to those on the pitch. Surely, the logic that tells me the players are just employees also suggests that if we were to swap van Persie for Adebayor I shouldn’t be bothered. He’s a professional after all, as long as he does his job why should I care?

Well, as idealistic as it sounds, I do care. Whilst I should probably revise the limits of my devotion I don’t think it’s wrong to react from the heart to an individual who does something special for our club. I’m not so naïve to think that when players talk of love for the club that they aren’t putting on a glossy PR image but I take the chance that when they crash in a 30 yarder against Sp*rs, they might mean it as something more than just an execution of their duty as a contracted employee of Arsenal Football Club. I only hold out this hope because I think I have seen some players who really did mean it.

I know I’m destined for many more years of heartache by falling in love with anyone in an Arsenal shirt but I’m afraid I can’t go cold on our players. There will be more Cashley’s, more Na$ri’s and more van Per$ie’s but I’m prepared to suffer that for the next Jack Kelsey, the next Tony Adams, the next Pat Rice or the next Thierry Henry.

Keep The Faith

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